For some time the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers has been seeking to establish a dialogue with English Heritage on matters of mutual interest. Following an initial approach in 1992, The President, Vice-President and Secretary of the Council had a very useful meeting with Messrs Richard Halsey and Graham Pledger of English Heritage (EH) on Wednesday 14 September 1994. The following is a report of that meeting, written by the Secretary and agreed with EH.
Introduction. The President opened the discussion by saying that the popular perception of EH among bellringers was (a) that to EH preservation was all-important, even to the extent of leaving bells unringable or difficult to ring, and (b) that EH had a power of veto over bell restoration plans.
Mr Halsey replied that it was the duty of EH under the 1983 Act which set it up to preserve the heritage of England. EH wanted to see as much as possible preserved, but recognised that, if buildings were to be preserved they had to be used, and that some changes had to be accepted to suit current users. The same principle applied to bells and bell-frames.
Bell-frames - EH's position was that, if a bell-frame was important historically or in relation to the church or bells, they would wish to retain it, preferably in use. If retention in use were impossible, EH would seek other means of preserving it. It was a matter of regret that in most cases where replacement of the frame was planned, no consideration had been given to repairing it. EH recognised that parishes were concerned about the cost of repair, but it was important that all options should be considered. EH could, help to find a workable solution.
In order to provide guidance on the need for preservation in particular cases, a survey of bell- frames was required. A sub-committee comprising Christopher Dalton, Christopher Pickford, John Baldwin and the late George Elphick had considered how such a survey could be undertaken, but the cost appeared to be prohibitive. However, EH had agreed to fund a pilot survey in Essex, which was currently under way. When complete, the possibility of a total survey would be reconsidered. In discussion, the President offered the assistance of ringers in extracting information from existing records, but Mr Pledger thought that, while bells in all counties had been surveyed, very little work had been done on frames.
A four-point scale for assessing the rarity or importance of bell-frames had been proposed by Christopher Pickford and was being used in the Essex pilot survey. Mr Pledger confirmed that EH accepted this scale and had made use of it in deciding particular cases. Nevertheless, in the current shortage of knowledge on existing bell-frames EH tended towards preservation. He went on to speak of the way in which the frame at Pakenham, Suffolk, had been repaired and of current differences of opinion at Steeple Bumpstead, Essex. He agreed to look into a similar problem at Barrow, Suffolk, which had been brought to the Officers' attention.
Bells - EH were much less frequently involved in the preservation of bells and were generally happy to leave it to the Diocesan Advisory Committees to give advice.
Circumstances in which EH become involved - Mr Halsey explained that EH would become involved in bell restoration projects in the following circumstances:
(a) Where a grant had been sought from EH;
(b) Where a grant had previously been given - it is normal for the grant conditions to specify that the permission of EH is required for major changes in the future (such as the removal of a bell-frame);
(c) Where the church was a listed building or was in a conservation area - the faculty system requires that EH have to be notified of any alteration to such a church that would "affect or change the character of the building" and that the Chancellor of the diocese in deciding the faculty application is duty-bound to have before him EH's views. Such alterations would include major changes to a bell-frame or, say, a new floor in the tower, as well as external alterations to the fabric, but not the retuning of an existing ring of bells.
In practice, EH liked to be consulted at an early stage in proposals for major alterations and to attend site meetings. DAC advisers now generally advised parishes accordingly. At the end of the process EH had a right of formal objection to a Chancellor's decision, but they rarely used it. On three occasions only had a Chancellor granted a faculty to which EH had objected. EH could not require a grant to be repaid. A leaflet was being prepared on the interaction of grant conditions and faculty and planning applications, and EH would be willing to write an article on this subject for The Ringing World.
Ringers' perception of EH - Mr Halsey accepted that EH were often seen as confrontational and he regretted it. It was due largely to the lack of resources, which meant that they could deal only with DACs and Archdeacons rather than directly with ringers and other proponents of restoration schemes. It was also true that ringers' expectations of improvements in the "go" of bells after restoration work were high, with a strong preference for replacement rather than repair of frames.
Mr Halsey said that EH would welcome regular contact with the Central Council and would be pleased to arrange say two meetings a year, at which particular cases of difficulty and the principles arising from them could be discussed. They would wish the Council for the Care of Churches also to be represented at these meetings. The President welcomed this proposal, as he felt it important to dispel the feeling that EH's response would always be negative.
Peal boards, prayer boards, etc. - The President asked whether EH might consider assisting in the preservation of old peal boards, etc. Mr Halsey replied that any such assistance would be more likely as a part of a larger restoration project within a tower.
Conclusion - In thanking the Messrs Halsey and Pledger for the meeting, the President said that he would report back to the Administrative Committee and would respond further to the offer of regular meetings.
At their October meeting the Council's Administrative Committee received a draft report of the meeting and agreed that EH's offer of regular meetings should be accepted. The first of these is likely to be held early in 1995 and will include the possibility of grants for bell restoration from the National Lottery Fund. The Council Officers would also like to be informed of any cases where difficulty is being experienced with EH on bell restoration projects. Details should be sent to the Council Secretary (Chris Rogers, 50 Cramhurst Lane, Witley, Godalming, Surrey, GU8 5QZ).
The Ringing World, January 13, 1995, pages 34 to 35